Sidebar Columbus is versatile, fun and affordable, and it occupies an interesting brick building steeped in downtown history. It shakes some of the best cocktails in Columbus. It cooks gimmick-free dishes that are stylish enough to be interesting, accessible enough for broad appeal. The handsome restaurant even offers an unbeatable, weekly happy hour deal. So why does 4-year-old Sidebar Columbus fly under the radar for many diners?

Sidebar Columbus is versatile, fun and affordable, and it occupies an interesting brick building steeped in downtown history. It shakes some of the best cocktails in Columbus. It cooks gimmick-free dishes that are stylish enough to be interesting, accessible enough for broad appeal. The handsome restaurant even offers an unbeatable, weekly happy hour deal. So why does 4-year-old Sidebar Columbus fly under the radar for many diners?

I'm not saying Sidebar is unpopular - it attracts a respectable crew. But given its attributes, you'd think this place would be more talked about, more written about and constantly packed.

Suave but informal Sidebar cozily inhabits the space that once housed David's on Main (where chef Alana Shock made an early splash), The Brownstone and - according to Sidebar's staff - a Prohibition-era speakeasy curiously linked to the Statehouse via subterranean passageways.

Carved wood and brash local art spice up the vintage, duskily lit digs. Sophisticated jazz vocalists like Sarah Vaughan and Latin tunes a la The Buena Vista Social Club deepen the refined but laid-back vibe.

To further enhance that mood, sip on Sidebar's top-grade cocktails. They're skillfully crafted with good ingredients - such as house-made bitters - and include a flawless old fashioned untainted by muddled fruit ($10.25). Other refreshing choices: a properly frothy pisco sour ($11), a spicy and citrusy sidecar ($11), and an unrivalled Moscow mule produced with fresh ginger ($11).

Following a similar path, Sidebar's food weaves through classic recipes finessed by strong execution and a little pizazz. The cuisine is a lively mingling of Mediterranean and South American flavors. Generously portioned tapas are emphasized and, whether shared or eaten solo as modest-sized entrees, are an excellent way to go.

For something comforting with a kick, pick the meatless and terrific Chile Relleno con Queso ($7) - a roasted, skinned and eggy-battered (in the Mexican manner) Anaheim chili pepper lavished with blistered cheese. Completing the feel-good plate is a long-cooked tomato sauce playing off fresh pico de gallo.

Beef Empanadas ($10), another crowd-pleaser, are perfectly fried. Three substantial savory pastries filled with zesty, wine-inflected pot roast are served with a Peruvian-style rocoto sauce that could make cardboard taste good - it's creamy, spicy and brightened with cilantro. Sidebar's frying expertise is again displayed in a hefty serving of Tilapia Fritters ($8) - and it turns an often unexciting fish into delicious nuggets.

For a texturally opposite seafood treatment, opt for the inspired Red Snapper Ceviche ($10), meaty hunks of fresh-tasting raw fish "cooked" in a milky and spicy citrus-bath with a hint of mint and a crisp plume of fried plantain.

This is a great place to try octopus (Octopus Galician Style, $10). The potentially intimidating, tentacled critter is seared tender with equal-sized wedges of comforting red potatoes. Sealing the delicious deal is an olive oil-based sauce that had me asking for bread and is fragrant with garlic, herbs, paprika and sweet red peppers.

Speaking of delicious deals, Tuesday's happy hour special (5-7 p.m.) is an amazing offer - enough tapas for a complete meal served free to customers purchasing regular-priced drinks. On a recent Tuesday, this included hearty braised beef short ribs, large and soothing crostini with avocado and cream cheese, impressive tuna sushi, saffron rice arancini with Manchego cheese, and slices of worthy tres leches cake.

If entrees are calling, the gratifying Pan-Seared Salmon ($20, with good guacamole and moros y cristianos, Cuban-style rice and beans) and the huge and beautifully bronzed Roasted Duck ($27, with tender meat and paella-like rice strewn with mushrooms and spinach) prove that Sidebar can do those well, too.

Clearly, this place is capable in many culinary areas. So if it's not flashing on your restaurant radar screen, your radar might need readjusting.